Intellectuals vs Pollsters : A media catfight

It has been a few days now since the Panvel Agricultural Produce Market Committee (APMC) was immortalized as the first place where the “demonetization bomb” hit the BJP.

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Yes, history will remember that this agricultural market committee poll was the harbinger of change. This is the moment when India’s fortunes changed forever and Modi’s star faded into oblivion. The result of this poll was circulated on timelines of Lutyens celebrities till the whole nation knew about Panvel Agricultural Produce Market Committee. Just when Panvel APMC’s name was about to be inscribed in golden letters in the history of humanity, came a host of elections: from bypolls in Madhya Pradesh and Bengal and Assam…then 147 municipalities across Maharashtra with a voter turnout of 70% and local body polls in Gujarat. Much to the surprise of ever expert who had taken Panvel APMC to be the most appropriate indicator for 2019 Lok Sabha polls, the BJP put up stunningly powerful performances in these other elections. Due to local factors, of course 🙂

Lutyens journos were irritated. How can people not see that Panvel APMC poll is a clear referendum on Modi whereas all these are polls in Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Assam and Gujarat are based on local factors? This led to a really interesting catfight on twitter that I feel I must report to you 🙂

It all started when CVoter’s Yashwant Desmukh dared to go public with his doubts about the Lutyens consensus view.

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Come on Yashwant, how dare you!! How dare you say that intellectuals are “out of sync”? Intellectuals do a daily survey of the mood of the masses by speaking to their cook, maid and driver. And when Yashwant put out this tweet, he was simply tempting fate:

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This is the limit! First you reject the idea that Panvel APMC polls are a referendum on Modi. Then you question the expertise of journalists!

There had to be a smackdown. And who better to deliver it than Hartosh Singh Bal.

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Good one, Hartosh. Intellectual = anyone who uses intellect? This must be the reason Hartosh took up journalism instead of mathematics : real sciences do not allow people to make a rhetorical point by playing on double meanings of words.

Just to remind people, Hartosh Singh Bal is a “mathematician” trained at NYU

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Now, personally, I would humbly suggest that  “mathematician” is a title that can hardly be given as lightly as the title of”journalist”. Typically it would require a person to give evidence of substantial original research in mathematics, usually in addition to a PhD and several years of postdoctoral scholarship (at least…at the very very very least).  But then, most journalists would barely pass math of Class 12 level. With his postgraduate degree in Mathematics, Hartosh Singh Bal is probably the most scientifically literate person the journalists have met in their lifetime.

But Yashwant tried to question the intellectual again:

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This led to another smackdown from the expert:

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Correct. Instead of going out and trying to measure things in the field like a humble pollster, an intellectual uses his divine third eye to guess the public mood. This must be another reason Hartosh quit science. Scientists have a superstition that to understand something, you must measure it. Intellectuals know that to understand something, you need guesswork.

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Yashwant should know the golden rule of talking to an intellectual. Never bring up 2014. It hurts.

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By now, Economic Times’ Rohini Singh had also joined the conversation, obviously on the side of intellectual guesswork. Yes Hartosh, history will surely remember that the media did not vilify Narendra Modi enough. Narendra Modi — darling of the media!

Then, Yashwant did something truly terrible. He asked for data. That’s another reason Hartosh left science.

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Well, who needs data when the demand for evidence can be easily countered with a personal attack? Show them Hartosh.

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Easy to find and pay a pollster to get the desired conclusion. Much easier, for instance, than finding an intellectual who can be paid to write. Intellectuals would *never* be unethical. All intellectuals agree.

But Rohini was still itching…

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You can feel the irritation in these tweets. The intellectuals have the conclusion ready, but the public is simply not cooperating. Not in opinion polls. Not in real polls. There is little left to do in Lutyens Delhi other than to be mean to people.

Now, I could dig up tweets of journos on the public mood… on the recent bypolls… on Assam … on Modi’s chances of becoming PM. It’s been done so many times. But I would rather enjoy the catfight in the media.

Oh…and what’s my take on this? Simple. Pollsters over journalists. Because pollsters are at least out there using scientific techniques to understand things. Journos, for the most part, are simply talking out of their behinds. And no…speaking to cook/maid/driver or even a clump of people on the side of the road is NOT a usable scientific sample. Those are just that…anecdotes. And data beats anecdotes. Sure, you could pay a pollster. But, you could just as well pay a journalist. So, nothing to choose there. Other than that, pollsters have access to a real science. If a pollster wants to be honest, their conclusions would actually be worth something. Journos use anecdotes and have pretty much nothing else to go on. Even if journos tried to be honest, their views would always be worthless. Science over guesswork. Every single time. 

How BJP can play the Bharat Bandh game

In the first *real* signal of how the demonetization issue is playing out across the minds of the people, the Opposition has gone for a hasty retreat on Bharat Bandh.

First, Mamata Banerjee claimed there had been no talk of a Bharat Bandh ever.

Then, the Congress claimed that the Bharat Bandh has been changed to a “Jan Akrosh Diwas”, whatever the hell that means.

Then, Mayawati decided to go for a “symbolic protest”.

These embarrassing U-turns could not possibly have happened in a vacuum. Is there really anyone who honestly believes that the Opposition would have withdrawn if they had internal feedback that the public was on their side. Has anything happened in the last 2.5 years to suggest that the Opposition was willing to dial done its shrill tone?

Of course not. They have been in total war mode from Day 1. From May 26, 2014 when Modi took oath. In fact, some parties like AAP went to war against “Prime Minister Narendra Modi” over Delhi’s power supply a full 7 days or so *before* he even became Prime Minister. That is the tragi-comedy of the Indian opposition that we have watched since May 16, 2016.

So, let’s be rest assured that the Opposition wouldn’t just retreat if they sniffed even a slight chance. The reason they rolled back their Bharat Bandh is because they had sure feedback that it was a disastrous idea. We don’t know the extent to which the public is angry about daily inconvenience. But one thing we do know is that a massive majority (probably over 95%) will be happy to see him succeed in this battle. As such, the Opposition trying to trip up Modi in the battle against black money through unproductive measures such as Bharat Bandh was a disastrously stupid decision  on their part. It was clear that the Opposition wanted things to shut down to *increase* people’s problems. With no other end except to trip up Modi. Disaster.

No wonder, the big parties spent most of the weekend assuring the public they had not called for a Bharat Bandh. Lutyens channels seemed aware of the PR disaster and tried damage control by repeatedly headlining claims that “no major party is behind the Bandh”.

Except I remember clearly that a Bharat Bandh was called by the joint opposition. And I can bet everyone else remembers it too.

It is up to the BJP to seize the moment. Don’t let them get away with this. Don’t let them claim there was no bandh. This is the moment to hit them hard, because they are on the run. Go to town saying that Congress wants Black Money to win and has been working with unions of bank employees, traders and truckers to create shortages for the people. Where is the evidence? They called a Bharat Bandh … see. The conspiracy between Congress and the unions has been laid bare by the Bharat Bandh.

The BJP should hit them on both sides. Claim credit for striking Black Money. And pass the blame for people’s inconveniences to the Opposition. Hit them hard. Make them pay for this Bharat Bandh misadventure.

F*CK Fidel Castro : May you rot in hell

I apologize for the language. But THAT is what I genuinely feel the headlines today should have said. I wanted to puke when I saw the Firstpost page today

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A straightforward, open-minded titan? A revolutionary and an icon? What the f*** man…what the f***?

Can we start a hashtag #Notmyicon?

I did not cry for Osama bin Laden. I am waiting to celebrate the death of Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi. I am not gonna cry for Fidel Castro. I am gonna celebrate. Who’s with me? If I cry, it will be out of joy…and the realization that there is no eternal hellfire waiting to burn this piece of scum.

On an average day, the front page of Firstpost is filled with sermons about democracy, dissent and free speech. About the so called “intolerance”. Then bloody Fidel Castro dies and his life is splashed all over the front pages as an  “open minded Titan”. Yes, some film wallah makes up a fake story about being harassed by Gau Rakshaks for 15 minutes and intolerance goes through the roof. But Fidel Castro is “open minded”.

Fidel Castro’s intolerance wasn’t of the silly Gau Rakshak variety, where dissent is so easy, so fun and so profitable that the “dissenters” have the luxury of making up fake stories for their entertainment. In Fidel Castro’s Cuba, you didn’t have the luxury of being a multi-millionaire actor telling your fans live on TV that you are too scared to live in the country.

In Fidel Castro’s Cuba, if you wanted to dissent…you went out. You took a raft or a boat out into the open ocean. If you survived the journey across the sea, you survived to tell your story. You didn’t get to sit in your million dollar house in the heart of the capital and give interviews cursing the ruler. That’s *real* intolerance.

How can the same publications that sermonize about democracy every single day get away with heaping praise on a dictator? How come no one confronts them with their breathtaking hypocrisy? All those people who call Castro open minded…I dare one of you to go to Cuba and raise slogans against Fidel Castro. I dare one of you to go to Cuba and burn an effigy of Fidel Castro. Let’s see how you fare. If you really think that your Castro regime is “open minded”, prove it!

The reason they get away with breathtaking hypocrisy is “leftist cultural hegemony”. I have been railing against this for long. We simply haven’t stigmatized the Communists, not even a fraction of the extent to which we have stigmatized Nazis or the KKK or ISIS. Even Muslim appeasement in the culture is nothing compared to the extent of Communist appeasement. No liberal will dare to publicly heap praise on ISIS. But every day we see the Communist flag being raised publicly, we see card carrying Communists talking on television, writing in newspapers and participating in public discourse …

As if it is somehow mainstream to be a Commie. As if Commies didn’t send 45 million people to their deaths in China alone. As if Commies are not the number 1 internal domestic threat in India. As if Commies don’t have military batteries parked in jungles of Jharkhand, Odisha and Chhattisgarh with the explicit aim of overthrowing the Indian state by violent force. We walk past Communist party offices with large portraits of Stalin. As if Stalin wasn’t a mass murderer. We see people wearing Che Guevara shirts… it’s all normal.

Really? We even have RSS leaders expressing condolences for the death of Commies. Even Prime Minister Narendra Modi expressed grief at the death of Fidel Castro. Because, you know…you are supposed to look past political affiliations and be gracious in death. Because, you know… it is as if Commies are regular human beings with a mainstream worldview.

No. Commies are not mainstream. They sanction the murder of anyone who objects to their ideology. And they have killed close to 100 million people … they are not joking about this.

They don’t believe in free speech.

They don’t believe in democracy.

They don’t believe in freedom of worship.

They don’t believe in freedom of enterprise.

They don’t believe in private property.

They don’t believe in privacy.

They don’t believe in due process and/or fair trials for those accused of crimes.

Commies don’t believe in a single thing that we associate with free or decent society. Neither does ISIS. Neither did the Nazis. And yet we act as if Commies are somehow normal people.

Ha! The “anti-imperialist” Fidel Castro bequeathed his power to his brother Raul Castro. From what I see, Raul Castro himself is 85 years old. Which means his end is not far away either. I guess liberals should start getting ready to write about the  “open-mindedness” of whichever member of the Castro dynasty will be selected to rule by His Majesty Raul Castro…

Our friends the corrupt : What happened to Second Battle for Independence?

Growing up in India, it was not long before I became aware of the monster called “corruption”. We all talked about it, we all shook our heads about it… none of us could do anything about it. The sinister term for the proceeds of corruption was “black money”. From street corner discussions to Bollywood movies, we all heard about how the monster of corruption chews up the common people in this country. In the belly of this monster lies the so called “black money”.

And we all understood that the corruption went right to the top. The peons at government offices were corrupt. The cashiers and accountants were corrupt. Their managers were corrupt. The IAS bureaucrats who ruled over them were corrupt. And the ministers those bureaucrats reported to were corrupt.

Not surprisingly, every common Indian carries within himself this seething, helpless anger against corruption and black money. And so it happened that when a band of “revolutionaries” arrived at Jantar Mantar in Delhi, early in the summer of 2011, this anger exploded. The language used at that time was fully laced with undertones of violence, showing the depth of our anger and frustration. “Final War against corruption” they would call it:

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Or they would call it the “Second Battle for Independence”. Note the imagery conveyed by the words. Corruption was the ultimate monster and we have to begin “final war” against it. No sacrifice is too great in this battle. Because this is the second battle for independence. How can we as patriots not be ready to sacrifice everything we have? This is how corruption and black money was visualized.

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How could we not fight back? Right?

Cut to early 2015, when Modi government published a list of a handful of Swiss Bank Account holders.

The liberal echo chamber erupted with laughter. Ha Ha Ha! After so much ado, this is all that Modi sarkar could do to catch the monster. You stupid bhakts…LOL

Ha ha ha! Most of those Jan Dhan accounts are totally empty. You stupid bhakts again.

Ha ha ha! The income disclosure scheme unearthed just Rs 65,000 crore. You silly bhakts. Can’t stop laughing.

And then at 8 pm on Nov 8, Modi fired a single shot. A single shot that was heard around the world. For black money holders, the world came to an abrupt end. Not with a bang. But with a whimper.

But then a miraculous thing happened. The intellectual echo chamber swiftly shifted the consensus view on what black money is.

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Oh look how wonderful! From a ravenous flesh hungry monster, corruption has suddenly become gentle as sheep. What’s wrong with those poor black sheep? They never hurt anybody, did they? Can’t we just live and let live? Here is Firstpost again, telling us that Corruption is all a big yawn.

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Yes. Why talk of scams? It’s all too boring and too old. It is not like corruption is a problem, is it? The Opposition did not let us down.

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See? Corruption is no man eating monster. Corruption is a teeny tiny mouse. You know, now that I think about it, corruption is a cute little mouse like Jerry. We have all cheered for the lovable Jerry trying to give big bad Tom the slip. Why can’t we cheer for corruption as well? It gets even better :

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Not only is corruption our cute cuddly house pet. How can we forget all the good things that corruption does for us? Black money is our ever faithful friend who stood with us in times of distress and now we want to turn our backs on it. Coming as it is from the current heartthrob of Lutyens Delhi, I expect them to write children’s fables about  the friendship between India and black money. When the nation was on a knife edge of disaster, we were saved by our faithful friend : black money. I even learned that we are demeaning our loyal friend through the use of the term “black money”.

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And don’t you silly bhakts dare talk about sacrifices for the sake of nationalism now. Or eminent liberals will bite your stupid bhakt head off.

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What happened to the imagery of “Final War against Corruption” and “Second Battle for Independence”? All I see today is liberals mocking Narendra Modi and his “bhakts” for telling people to bear some pain for the sake of the nation. Why can’t we talk about patriotism now? What happened to the “Second Battle for Independence” ? NOW suddenly it is silly to talk about soldiers at the border? Who used to talk about the “Second Battle” and “Final War”? What happened? Why did that rhetoric change? 

Friends, I assure you the day is not far when the echo chamber will sing paeans to black money. Instead of “Tom and Jerry”, there will be cartoons like “Modi and Black Money”, where big bad Modi chases around poor little black money. Bollywood will make movies about how the helpless poor were saved by the generosity of black money holders. When we were children we had to write essays in school about “People who help us”. This would include essays such as “Our friend the postman” and “Our friend the policeman”. Don’t be surprised if one of these days, your child comes back from school with a writing assignment on “Our friends the corrupt”.

“Organized loot and legalized plunder”

No, this isn’t Dr. Manmohan Singh honestly describing the Coal Scam. These are accusations that he is hurling at Narendrabhai Modi. Next in line to accuse Modi of being a “plunderer” are Laloo Yadav, Sharad Pawar and Deve Gowda.

To see the family fielding its pet robot to take on the government is a bittersweet experience. On the one hand, it is a tacit admission of weakness from the Congress : they understand that the whole party is so deeply tainted with scams that no leader can credibly take on Narendra Modi on the issue of black money. When certified scamsters of the Congress go on TV to criticize the surgical strike of black money, they are only setting themselves up for jeers and mockery from the public. That’s sweet.

Now for the bitter. The bitterness is about the fact that despite being the nominal head of the rampaging robber brigade called UPA-I & II, the carefully cultivated propaganda about the “honesty” of Manmohan Singh endures even today. It’s a testament to the PR failures of the Indian right that they failed to shatter Singh’s image despite billion dollar scams.

Here is just one sample of the “honesty” of this person:

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This from May 7, 2014. This man has been two term PM, Finance Minister and Reserve Bank Governor. What more could he have wished to achieve in his life? And yet he cannot resist the temptation to steal some free power and water for himself for his retirement years. When I made this screenshot, I made sure to include in the frame above the latest news from the Indian Express that the same Dr. Singh is accusing others of “looting”.

I have never ever seen Dr. Singh as “honest”. I have always regarded him as the epitome of a compromised intellectual. So dishonest and compromised to the core that he became the pet robot of the dynasty.

This kind of looting of free water and power is something we associate with politicians like Lalu Yadav or Deve Gowda. We don’t associate this with people like Dr. Manmohan Singh. Why? Because of cultural elitism. Some RJD goon refuses to pay bills because his masters are in power. So does Dr. Singh. What’s the difference? The difference merely is that the RJD goon probably does not speak good, fluent English. That’s why an RJD guy getting the exact same favor for himself as Dr. Manmohan Singh will be seen as a goon, while Dr. Singh will appear “honest”. The mentality is *exactly* the same.

Did you know that in his last day  as Bihar’s Chief Minister, Laloo Yadav ran away with an expensive Piaget watch and Bose speakers from his office?

Wait. I owe Laloo Yadav an apology. He never did that. Our “honest” PM did:

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For those wondering, gifts received by the Prime Minister while visiting countries in official capacity belong to the state. They are not the personal property of the PM to take to his home. And FYI, Narendra Modi used to regularly auction all the gifts he received as CM of Gujarat and donate the proceeds to a Gujarat government girl child education initiative. That’s Narendra Modi for you. The ex-Prime Minister who ran away with speakers and watches and carpets is calling Narendra Modi a “plunderer”.

Now, watches and carpets and speakers might seem like chump change compared to the lakh crore scams that Dr. Singh presided over, but that’s why I call Dr. Singh the ultimate compromised intellectual. Becoming a celebrity robber also takes some initiative and some courage. Veerappan was a dreaded criminal, but it takes balls of steel to become a smuggler like Veerappan. Dr. Singh did not even have the temperament to be a robber baron doing a multi-crore scam. Challenge Dr. Singh to steal 1 lakh crore and he will wet his pants.  He was always the compromised intellectual chasing cheap favors. And we have seen intellectuals in our country selling themselves for small stuff, even a free trip to America costing a couple of thousand $$$. THAT is Manmohan Singh…the “chindi chor” as we say in Hindi.

Organized loot, Dr. Singh? Do you mean the CWG scam? The 2G scam or the coal scam? Do you mean scams where the government’s law minister starts editing CBI reports to be presented to the Supreme Court? THAT would meet the definition of “organized loot”. Do you mean governments that bring ordinances to insulate proclaimed offenders from losing their seats in Parliament after being convicted for crimes?

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THAT would meet the definition of “organized loot”, Dr. Singh.

You want to know what is “legalized plunder”, Dr. Singh? Legalized plunder is this from 1973-74:

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Confiscating as much as 97% of the income of people (beyond a limit) … now THAT would be “legalized plunder”.  And guess who was India’s Chief Economic Adviser during the time this happened?

Guess? Guess which good honest doctor was advising the nation?

Why do you think black money came into being in the first place? Because people were fed up of surrendering 97% of their own money as part of the government’s “legalized plunder” program. That’s when YOU sir used to be the Chief Economic Adviser. Ha!

Doctor saab, you reminded us that in the long run, we are all dead. I am unable to decide whether it is just a taunt or a hint to Narendra Modi that he should drop everything else and start plundering right now… in the moment! You know, like you used to do for your party. Because, the Dynasty lives on and you can never have enough black money stashed away for your descendants to come… Right, Dr. Singh?

BJP’s explosive growth in the North East is blowing apart the “idea of India”

Simply put, the “idea of India” is that there is no such thing as India. The Republic of India is supposed to be a forced union of disparate identities put together by the oppressive hand of the super-villains called “Brahmin-Bania males” of the Hindi speaking areas of the North. This provided the intellectual justification for the dominant Left to support just about any anti-India force, from terrorists in Kashmir, to insurgents in the North East to Naxals in the tribal heartland. Because India itself should not exist, any act of violence against the Indian state came to be celebrated. This lies at the core of liberals scoffing at any sign of patriotism. India itself is a joke to them. They laugh at the idea that anyone could give a damn about India.

Not surprisingly, former colonial powers have also endorsed this view, resulting in fat payoffs to eager Gunga Dins at every level of India’s academia, intelligentsia, media and judiciary (don’t forget the judiciary!).

The exact same goes for “Hindus”. The idea that there is a unifying thread running through all our linguistic and social identities is anathema to the leftist narrative. Again, “Hindu” being seen as a forced label created by villainous upper castes, the left has an intellectual justification for trying to choke every public observance of Hindu culture : Durga Puja, Diwali, Holi, Dahi Handi, Rakshabandhan, Jallikattu, etc.

This also explains the extreme hatred of India’s liberals towards the BJP. The BJP is supposed to be a party of upper caste, Hindi speaking vegetarian Hindu males who are out to enforce their way of life on all the subject peoples of the non-nation forcibly labelled as “India”. 

Here is a short list of all the kinds of people who are required to hate Hindus and India:

A) Dalits

B) Tribals

C) Non-vegetarians

D) Non-Hindi speakers

E) Kashmiris

F) People of the North East

G) Followers of secular religions like Islam and Christianity

H) Women

That, my friends is a first list of all the division lines that the left expects to draw across India. So when any of these demographics starts showing a clear shift towards the BJP, the leftist narrative goes for a toss.

The Left suffered a tremendous psychological blow when the BJP began dominating the two main tribal states of Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh. The fierce liberal campaign against B S Yeddyurappa was not just because he belonged to BJP. A huge role was played by the fact that a BJP government in Karnataka really hurts the liberal narrative. And liberal ranks went into extreme panic when Dalits started voting in large numbers for Narendra Modi in 2014.

The latest in the list of liberal troubles is the explosive growth of BJP in the North East. First of all, in Bengal itself…all Brahmins relish their meat. Bengal can hardly be accused of being a Hindi speaking area with a huge vegetarian presence…lol…to say nothing of the North Eastern states beyond Bengal. But BJP has taken Assam…and now the bypoll results are in… all showing massive further vote shifts towards BJP in Assam, Arunachal and even Tripura. In Tripura, the BJP has established itself as undisputed main opposition…easily kicking out the Congress. Tremors are also being felt in North Bengal, where BJP is firmly in No.2 position, banishing CPI(M) and Congress to the margins.

Liberals are at a loss to explain this. They are losing all the cards in their hand. The common citizen in the North East breaks every single stereotype that liberals have circulated about the average BJP voter…the so called “Bhakt”. 

It’s almost like people of India don’t think that India is a prison house of nationalities. It’s almost like people of India are able to see…just like they always did… that there is a common unifying thread running through our diversity. It’s almost like people of India don’t want to tear the Republic apart.

 

You have to see it from the point of view of a liberal. India is supposed to be a “prison house of nationalities” and yet it doesn’t seem to be breaking apart. How does the liberal explain this? He/she cannot concede the existence of our common sense of nationality. For the liberal, the Dynasty now becomes the only acceptable explanation. All Indians are united by a common loyalty to the Gandhi family monarchs. With Modi having removed the monarchs from power, the liberal is sure that all these separate nationalities within India will revolt.

But what happens when these so called nationalities do not revolt? What happens happens when the “Hindu baniya party” is welcomed into the North East? What happens when tribals and Dalits welcome the so called “Hindu baniyas”? Worse… the man leading the imposition of the Hindu Brahmin way of life is not even a Brahmin himself and Hindi is not even his first language. What happens now? Total ideological chaos follows. The nation is a very dark place for a liberal today. He/she calls it “intolerance”.

PS: I am amused by some Congress cheerleaders celebrating a reduction in the BJP’s margin of victory in the Shahdol Lok Sabha bypoll this week, compared to the margin in the 2014 Lok Sabha. First of all, let me tell you that cheerleaders like this are the worst enemy of Congress (not that I really mind). When you aim so low that you end up celebrating a loss by as many as 60,000 votes, you are setting yourself up for failure. Now, for the record, let me tell you about Shahdol. It is definitely a safe seat for BJP, but not as one-sided as Congress cheerleaders would like to believe. Here is the history of the seat

2009 winner : Congress (margin = 13000 votes)

2004 winner : BJP (margin = 29000 votes)

1999 winner : BJP (margin = 19000 votes)

1998 winner: BJP (margin = 39000 votes)

1996 winner : BJP (margin = 53000 votes)

In particular, look at the 2004 margin of just 30,000 which came only 5 months after BJP had swept to power with 3/4 majority in Assembly polls in Madhya Pradesh. The victory margin for BJP on Tuesday was 60,000 votes, which is totally in line with the history of this seat. It is in fact the largest margin of victory in Shahdol in the last 2 decades, with the exception of 2014.

Was demonitization really planned for Nov 8?

Let me start today with an exclusive pic of Rajdeep Sardesai getting ready for his interview with Madam ji.

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Ok, so I got a lot of flak in the comments yesterday from all of you because I went off on a libertarian tangent about “legal tender” and voluntary exchanges 🙂 🙂

No problem. I guess I will have to keep my views on money to myself. I’ve been called an idiot several times before whenever I start talking about alternative currencies and advocating the abolition of central banks, etc, etc 🙂

On the good side, my blog got 1000 views yesterday, so that’s nice…

But there was something else in the comments that I found really exciting. Someone indicated that the move was initially planned for Nov 18 or so, but the date had to be advanced because the news about notes was beginning to leak out. I have been hearing many such rumors and for a while I was even believing them. Of course we will never know for exactly sure, but I have finally convinced myself that Nov 8 was indeed the day on which the Prime Minister planned the announcement. You may have an alternative hypothesis, but here are my reasons.

Let’s try to see what date of the month would be ideal for such an announcement. For daily wage laborers or weekly wage laborers, any day of any week would be an inconvenience, so we will unfortunately have to leave them out. Let us consider people who get paid and settle bills etc at the end of each month.

You can’t do the announcement in the first week of a month, because you have to give people some time to pay their bills after they got their money somewhere between 30 Oct and Nov 2.

So, the government surely couldn’t have done it before Nov 7.

Of course, once the announcement is made, there is going to be a week of panic, then one week of chaos and finally a third week in which things start getting better. By doing it on Nov 8, the govt was giving itself 3 full weeks before the end of the month when people start getting their own bills settled, after which they withdraw money to settle their own bills.

You may have a different guess, but I think 8th of the month…the banks closed on the 9th…so everything really began on the 10th is the best choice that could have been made. If there is a different logic, I would love to hear it.

 

For me, the more fun question is why November? Yes, it can’t be December or January because those are too cold, especially in the north and of course you can’t do it during the brutal summer months. Why not October? Maybe because its reaping season…I don’t really know.

But what I am really wondering is whether this had something to do with the RBI governor. Was Raghuram Rajan aware of this? Did Modi wait for Urjit Patel to take charge before the RBI started printing the notes? There is substantial credence to this idea because all the notes bear the signature of Urjit Patel. Others have told me that this does not mean anything, because the printing of the signature is just the last part of the process. Maybe. I don’t really know about the process of printing currency. But I would be surprised if the raw materials and all took 4 months to assemble, while the actual printing happened in 2 months.

What do you folks think?

I am actually in a great mood today, so I will end my post with some quick jabs at some of our great thought leaders of today.

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Actually Rohan, it’s not a normal. It is barely 15 days old and will disappear within the next 10 days, probably much before that. I’ll tell you what IS normal. “Normal” is for ordinary citizens to be bribing corrupt thieves to get their completely legitimate rights. It’s been happening for nearly 70 years. But you rarely complain about that…precisely because it had become the “normal”.

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Mr. M K Venu, I hope that you have heard about the bypoll results today, where people spoke from Madhya Pradesh to Assam and as far as Arunachal. Perhaps you are under the illusion that you are a journalist?

Actually, no way. There is no way you could be THAT stupid. You know exactly what you are and you know that you are surely no journalist.

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This tweet from Rohini Singh is pure gold. Though I am not sure she knows exactly just how amazingly correct she really is… LOL

And finally:

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Very well put, Marya! Here is an exclusive pic of Rajdeep giving himself and all of us that rare glimpse.

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What government and media failed to tell the people on demonetization

Suppose I borrow your car for a road trip from Mumbai to Lonavala and promise to bring it back safely. But I am a careless driver. I screw up and drive your car at high speed into a large tree. The car is destroyed.

No wonder you are furious with me. But I am a fair minded guy and I promise to make good for the damages I caused. So, I offer to buy you a similar car. But maybe you don’t want a car. Instead of the car, you want me to give you 5 buffalos, 3 chickens, 1 camel and 1 cup of milk from a female tiger in Corbett National Park.

I’ve never bought a buffalo before. I don’t know where the cattle market is. I know even less about where to buy a camel. And how am I supposed to get you the tiger milk! Come on, be reasonable.

But you don’t have to be reasonable. You insist that I OWE you for the car. I can’t get out of this. I must honor my debt.

This is where the government provides a way out.

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It’s the concept of legal tender. All I have to do is offer to pay you for the car in Indian Rupees. You can take it or leave it. No, you can’t insist on being paid in chickens or camels or tiger milk. It’s the LAW. If you don’t want the Rupees, you can take a hike. Sad day for you.

So, here is what got lost in the entire slanging match over demonetization.  Here is the thing which, had it been communicated clearly by the government and spread around by the media, would have eased much of the pain and panic that we saw over the last one week. The lines are easing now, but even this much pain could have been easily avoided. Rather we would have seen an orderly deposit and exchange of notes at banks until Dec 30, 2016 with minimal inconvenience to the public.

On Nov 8, Narendra Modi did NOT announce a ban on notes of Rs 500 and Rs 1000. All he did was declare that those notes  would cease to be legal tender.

In other words, all that happened on Nov 8 is that people of India were no longer under any legal compulsion to accept Rs 500 and Rs 1000 notes as payment. They were just as free as always to voluntarily accept and trade in those old currency notes. At any time during the next 50 days, you could choose a time of your convenience and deposit/exchange those notes at a bank or post office. If you miss the deadline, the RBI would still exchange the old bills until March 31, 2017. Then, why rush?

Here both the government and the media are at fault. In the big Nov 8 speech (or at least in later pronouncements by the PM, the government, the top bureaucrats and the RBI), it should have been clearly communicated that notes had not been banned and people should have been encouraged to keep trading as usual in the old notes as the new currency was slowly pressed into circulation. Instead of doing lazy reporting from long lines, the media should have helped to educate the public. Ok ok…the second suggestion is outright laughable. To expect clear thinking from the media… lol. Especially when so many editors have just lost a lifetime’s worth of black money themselves (we all know the reality).

As long as you can account for the notes you deposit at the bank, there is literally nothing to worry about. The old notes are not worthless…no…not at all! As long as people are willing to trade in them, they are worth just as much as they used to be. The notes are guaranteed by the government upto March 31, 2017 and rather easy to exchange until Dec 30.  There was no reason to panic and stand in line last week. Absolutely none at all.

Side note: It could even be argued that the notes  would retain worth indefinitely, as long as people are willing to trade in them. Anything can be used to trade, from cups of tiger milk to drops of goblin blood to shiny pieces of paper we call banknotes. Although, this is a bit of grey area, for many countries do criminalize bartering…not for any morally clear reason or right/wrong, but merely because bartering prevents the government from collecting taxes. But I won’t go off here on a libertarian tangent about “what is money” and “fiat currency” and “alternative currencies” and whether we should even have central banks, but the topic is rich and vast. I’ll stop here.

October 6, 1973 : The sacred story of holy war on a holy day

Earlier this year, when I was visiting China, I spent one weekend climbing the Great Wall with my friend. I was surprised at how steep the climb is and almost every few minutes I had to keep begging for a break. In between my panting, I would think out aloud about the soldiers of the Chinese Emperor who would climb up and down these walls, between the watchtowers, on a daily basis. Just imagine how much energy it would have taken simply for the troops to come to the wall, which is so high in the mountains that we had to be hoisted up on a (very unsafe and scary…I was sure I was going to die) ropeway.  At one point, when we found ourselves at a peak, looking around at the wall stretching endlessly into the horizon, my Chinese friends said with great pride, “Now you see to what extent a nation will go if it feels threatened”.

Obviously, I am not Chinese and China isn’t exactly our friend. But we understand the emotion. It’s the same.

We here on this blog have been breathlessly speaking of demonetization ever since Nov 8. In this, I think we forgot to talk about something very important:

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President Rivlin of Israel is in India right now, on a long six day visit. I am one of those who believes that a partnership between India and Israel … Wait! Excuse me for being politically incorrect… I believe that a partnership between Hindus and Jews is something that we owe to the world. The world deserves this partnership of civilizations. We have to make it happen.

So, I thought I would spend time today telling the sacred story of the Yom Kippur war, the story of how Israel’s young patriots saved their nation from total annihilation. These are the stories we should be telling our children, of how the Jewish people fought to save their land. Please note that most of my pics and storyline will follow this awesome BBC documentary I found here.

The background of course. Here is how the UN partitioned the area into Israel and Palestine, giving international status to the city of Jerusalem (Jewish area in blue).

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The Arabs on all sides immediately opened hostilities against the state of Israel in 1948. Then, the first miracle happened and Israel defeated them all. The map now looked like this:

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Observe how the Israelis now have most of Jerusalem with the exception of the “Old City”.

Side note here: The Old City of Jerusalem is walled on all sides and has 3 major quarters: the Muslim quarter (biggest by far), the Jewish quarter (Wailing wall, etc..remnant of Solomon’s temple) and the Armenian Christian quarter (Church of the Holy Sepulchre, supposed to contain Jesus tomb and the path he walked to crucification).

Now let me ask you to guess: of these 3 quarters (Muslim, Christian, Jewish), there is one quarter that is out of bounds for anyone who does not belong to that religion. Can you guess which religion would be the most narrow minded? No prizes for guessing…

When I visited Jerusalem in 2013, the Israeli guards outside the Muslim Quarter asked me if I was Pakistani. I said no. They told me I couldn’t go in. I did manage to get a glimpse of the Temple Mount through the slightly open door. That’s all.

Well, the Arab states got together and attacked again in 1967. Six days later, this is what Israel had done to them:

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In less than a week of work, Israel seized the Sinai desert from Egypt, the West Bank and Gaza strip and also the Golan Heights from Syria in the north. That’s what happens when you mess with the Jews. Also note that the Israelis now had control of all of Jerusalem.

In the Six Day War, some 80% of the Egyptian Air Force was obliterated sitting on the ground. The Israeli Air Force owned the skies.

But the Arabs began to regroup : Anwar Sadat in Egypt and Assad in Syria. And the Soviet Unions came in to arm Egypt. The day chosen for the joint attack was October 6, 1973, the day of Yom Kippur, the holiest day in the Jewish calendar.

On Oct 6, 1973, thousands of Egyptian forces went across the Suez Canal into the Sinai desert:

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On the Israeli side, the sand banks were almost 60 feet high and impossible for the Egyptian tanks to climb. So how did the Egyptians do this? They used water pumped out at high pressure from the Suez Canal itself to simply blow the sand apart and create a pass for their tanks!

Thousands of Egyptians soldiers and hundreds of tanks broke through into the Sinai. Wait, but surely the Israeli Air Force which owned the skies would have stopped the tanks dead in their tracks?

No! Because of this:

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On the western bank of the Suez Canal sat extensive batteries of SAM (Surface to Air Missiles) provided by the Soviets to the Egyptians. Israeli planes that tried to attack the Egyptian tanks crossing over were blown to bits by these SAM batteries.

So what does Israel do now? Their Air Force has been rendered useless. They send in their tanks for the ground battle with the Egyptians. Alas!

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This hand held device is not a video game set, although it works just like one. It’s a Soviet Sagger anti-tank missile which the Egyptian infantry was carrying with them. As the Israeli tanks tried to stop the Egyptians in Sinai, their tanks were taken out by these armor piercing weapons. Half the Israeli defense tanks were wiped out on that very day.

But Israel was in more trouble. On the exact same day. From the North.

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The Israeli defenses in the North were paper thin, numbering some 400 soldiers. These 400 Israelis were faced with 1200 Syrian tanks and 60,000 Syrian soldiers.  By the end of the day, the Syrians had taken the Golan heights and their tanks stood on the eastern bank of the Jordan river, overlooking Israel.

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This was the moment when the Jewish people stood to lose their homeland forever. On their holiest day of Yom Kippur. The Israelis literally ran through the streets, giving out the dire news and recruiting every last Army reservist to fight for the homeland.

The first priority was to seize back the Golan Heights, where the Syrians were closest to Israel.

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But they did it. They were outmanned and outgunned, but somehow enough Israeli tanks crossed the river Jordan and fought off the Syrian troops on the Golan Heights. The Israelis were night blind while the Soviets had equipped the Syrians with infra red night vision equipment. But the Israelis won nevertheless. In this, it also mattered that the Syrians did not have SAM batteries and the Israeli Air Force could operate on the Northern Front with impunity. In a near magical turn of events, the Israelis overran the Golan Heights and soon were knocking on the doors of the Syrian capital of Damascus. Amazing. No other word.

It was now time to retake the Sinai. And who would do it? This reckless young man.

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That’s General Ariel Sharon.

He would send Israeli tanks through a small gap in the Egyptian line and across the Canal on an actual mobile bridge.

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Here’s a question. Why were the Egyptians who had triumphantly crossed the Suez Canal into the Sinai still sitting just a few miles across? Why hadn’t they rushed further inwards. Because the SAM anti-aircraft batteries, sitting on the western bank of the Suez, could protect them only up to a range of 15 miles across the canal. Beyond that range, the Egyptian tanks would be destroyed by the Israeli Air Force.

That’s why the moment Sharon’s first few tanks crossed the Suez, they went right for the jugular of these SAM missile units. With the SAM missiles disabled, the Israeli Air Force started blowing the Egyptian tanks in the Sinai to bits.

As the line of Israeli tanks pushed into Egypt, they cut the supply lines of the Egyptian forces on the west bank of the Suez.

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There was little left for the Egyptian forces in the Sinai to do. The desert is endless and dry and unforgiving. With no food and no water and no ammunition, they surrendered by the thousands.

The Jews had secured their homeland again. Now isn’t that a story worth telling for the ages?

Secularism vs Science : Why the Opposition is fighting a losing battle

I should give Manak Gupta credit for picking up the subtle change in focus of TV coverage a couple of days ago :

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Suddenly, the TV channels had gone from showing visuals of lines to talking about lines. On social media, there is a sudden and severe crunch of shocking images of people standing in lines to access their money. Even the few stock images from Kenya that were being passed off as bank queues in India are now well known hoaxes and have been withdrawn from circulation by Congress party spokespersons.

I had been dying to hold a new Rs 2000 note myself. Today morning, I stood in line and received 2 crisp new notes of Rs 2000 along with a thick bundle of Rs 20 notes (lol!) adding up to Rs 6000. Took me half an hour. At the time I exit the SBI branch, there was not a single person outside the door. Inside the bank, there was a line of about 5-6 people. If I had come 30 minutes later, I would probably have walked out of the bank in under 15 minutes.

And the media has started to admit this:

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This is Day 10 since demonetization. In fact it would be appropriate to call it Day 9, because banks and ATMs were all closed on Wednesday Nov 9. What happens in 7 more days, say on Nov 25? And what will be the picture five days after that? What will the Opposition do on the morning of Dec 1, 2016?

What did the Opposition think? Did they think the lines would last forever? How could they not anticipate that after the initial mad rush, the queues would start shortening very quickly. Basic statistics supports this. The Opposition wasn’t just caught on the wrong side of history, they were caught on the wrong side of SCIENCE. I don’t blame Mamata Didi, with her college degree in Islamic studies (not kidding…it’s true…check it) for not understanding this fact. But at least a CM with a degree from IIT should have realized that mathematics would make the queues drop sharply. And there is no anarchy in mathematics. Fasting makes no difference either. Rules are rules.

And right now, the only lever that the Opposition has is literally melting away before their very eyes. With each passing day. You know things are bad when even News18 and that too Pallavi Ghosh starts reporting this:

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But what is bothering the Opposition is the fact that as time passes, the queues were getting shorter. More and more relaxations were announced at the government’s daily briefings. But more significantly, as the days passed the queues started getting more orderly.

(http://www.news18.com/news/politics/as-india-learn-to-live-with-demonetisation-opposition-rethinks-strategy-1313121.html)

NOW they have started the rethink! LOL! The government does not mind disruptions in the House as of now… they are in fact happy to let Parliament get adjourned over and over again. Because with every passing day and in fact with each passing minute the queues get shorter. By getting the House adjourned, the Opposition is just missing their own opportunity to strike.

And what happens two weeks from now when it is business as usual at the banks? The Opposition will be left without any issue whatsoever, exposed and vulnerable to  Modi’s attacks from every single direction. On Dec 1, Modi will have all his cards. The Opposition will be completely unarmed. Here is a (partial?) list of arrows the Prime Minister will have in his quiver:

(1) He will claim to be the man who has done more against black money than any other PM could have even imagined.

(2) He will accuse the Opposition of complaining because they have lost their own stockpiles of dirty money.

(3) He will go to the poor of the country and say that he made the rich suffer (I despise the socialist style rhetoric of projecting the rich as inherently evil, but the class war card has a record of giving political dividends)

(4) He can start conducting vicious IT raids on big fish, seizing their ill gotten cash and benaami properties. This has already started today. When the big fish are raided, the aam aadmi will literally jump in delight.

(5) He can cut income tax rates, which will provide an absolute water-tight seal against any middle class support that may have leaked out because of long lines for a couple of weeks.

(6) Ditto with taxes on traders, which will pacify the BJP’s base with small traders.

(7) Don’t forget Ghulam Nabi Azad’s loose remarks yesterday comparing Uri to demonetization. As it is, Rahul baba is in a soup with his khoon ki dalali remarks. A vicious pun from Modi connecting surgical strikes, dalals and black money could be only days away. Opposition can only pray.

(8) He can even announce a certain amount to be deposited in every Jan Dhan account as a gesture of apology and gratitude to the poor for bearing with the government during the difficult times.

Does the Opposition have any possible comeback to even one of these moves? Add to this the fact that prodding the people towards orderly plastic money will increase transparency and confidence in the Indian economy, resulting in more investment.

The Opposition hasn’t thought this through. Their only source of political capital was the immediate suffering in long lines…and that political capital is simply melting away. To be fair to them, there wasn’t very much they could have done in response to such a bold move from PM Modi. Their best chance was to be seen as in lock step with the government in taking a historic step. Nitish Kumar has done the only sensible thing in this regard. But the others, especially a certain anarchist and a certain jihadi, will curse the day they decided to go down the black hole.